Horses to Die For

Odysseus and Diomedes have learned that King Rhesus, bivouacking with his Thracian contingent, has with him some especially large and handsome horses. The warriors want them:

Homer. Iliad.10.469-493.

“The two advanced through battle arms and black blood,
and pushing on, quickly reached the Thracian force.
The men, spent, were asleep on the ground. Their war gear,
so fine, lay beside them, neatly arranged
in three rows. Each man’s yoked horses stood by him.
Rhesus slept among his men, hard by his fast horses.
They were tied to the chariot’s upper rim.

Odysseus saw him first and pointed:
‘Diomedes, that’s him! And those are the horses
the guy we killed, Dolon, told us about!
Come on! Unleash your awesome force!
Don’t stand here armored for nothing. Untie the horses.
Better still, you kill the men. I’ll deal with the horses.’

He said this. Bright-eyed Athena then inspired Diomedes
with fury: left and right he killed. Awful moans came
from men struck by his sword. The earth flowed red with blood.

Just as a lion coming upon untended flocks
(whether goats or sheep) bears evil in his pounce,
Tydeus’s son coursed through the Thracian force
until he’d killed twelve.

As for artful Odysseus–
whenever Tydeus’s son struck a man with his sword,
Odysseus would drag him aside by the leg,
thinking: this is how the horses with handsome manes
will pass through with ease, their hearts not trembling
trampling on bodies. They aren’t used to that yet.”

τὼ δὲ βάτην προτέρω διά τʼ ἔντεα καὶ μέλαν αἷμα,
αἶψα δʼ ἐπὶ Θρῃκῶν ἀνδρῶν τέλος ἷξον ἰόντες.
οἳ δʼ εὗδον καμάτῳ ἀδηκότες, ἔντεα δέ σφιν
καλὰ παρʼ αὐτοῖσι χθονὶ κέκλιτο εὖ κατὰ κόσμον
τριστοιχί· παρὰ δέ σφιν ἑκάστῳ δίζυγες ἵπποι.
Ῥῆσος δʼ ἐν μέσῳ εὗδε, παρʼ αὐτῷ δʼ ὠκέες ἵπποι
ἐξ ἐπιδιφριάδος πυμάτης ἱμᾶσι δέδεντο.
τὸν δʼ Ὀδυσεὺς προπάροιθεν ἰδὼν Διομήδεϊ δεῖξεν·
οὗτός τοι Διόμηδες ἀνήρ, οὗτοι δέ τοι ἵπποι,
οὓς νῶϊν πίφαυσκε Δόλων ὃν ἐπέφνομεν ἡμεῖς.
ἀλλʼ ἄγε δὴ πρόφερε κρατερὸν μένος· οὐδέ τί σε χρὴ
ἑστάμεναι μέλεον σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἀλλὰ λύʼ ἵππους·
ἠὲ σύ γʼ ἄνδρας ἔναιρε, μελήσουσιν δʼ ἐμοὶ ἵπποι.
ὣς φάτο, τῷ δʼ ἔμπνευσε μένος γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη,
κτεῖνε δʼ ἐπιστροφάδην· τῶν δὲ στόνος ὄρνυτʼ ἀεικὴς
ἄορι θεινομένων, ἐρυθαίνετο δʼ αἵματι γαῖα.
ὡς δὲ λέων μήλοισιν ἀσημάντοισιν ἐπελθὼν
αἴγεσιν ἢ ὀΐεσσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνορούσῃ,
ὣς μὲν Θρήϊκας ἄνδρας ἐπῴχετο Τυδέος υἱὸς
ὄφρα δυώδεκʼ ἔπεφνεν· ἀτὰρ πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεὺς
ὅν τινα Τυδεΐδης ἄορι πλήξειε παραστὰς
τὸν δʼ Ὀδυσεὺς μετόπισθε λαβὼν ποδὸς ἐξερύσασκε,
τὰ φρονέων κατὰ θυμὸν ὅπως καλλίτριχες ἵπποι
ῥεῖα διέλθοιεν μηδὲ τρομεοίατο θυμῷ
νεκροῖς ἀμβαίνοντες· ἀήθεσσον γὰρ ἔτʼ αὐτῶν.

black and white photograph of a horse lying on the ground with trees in the background
Alexander Gardner.
Dead Horse of a Confederate Colonel.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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